The Obsessive Danger Of Spectacle

*Contains spoilers for the film Nope

Nope is Oscar-winner Jordan Peele’s third venture in the director’s chair. He became a household name after his smash-hit debut film, Get Out. His love of cinema drove him to write Nope during the COVID-19 quarantine when he was worried about the future of the theatrical experience.1 He sought to create a “spectacle,” one that audiences would have to come see. Not only is the film itself meant to be a spectacle, but a key theme throughout the story centers on visually striking displays and events.

Biblical Introductions

Before the action picks up and our cast of characters gets thrust into peril, the movie opens with a Bible verse: “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle”(Nahum 3:6). While the passage is referring specifically to how God will make the oppressive Assyrians into a spectacle for tormenting the people of Israel,2 the film is clearly putting the emphasis on the “spectacle” vocabulary. Spectacle is (as used in this article) a moment, event, or idea that is in an elevated place for all to see and marvel at. The film wants us to be aware of the strangely spiritual nature of spectacle.

We see many examples of spectacle throughout the story and how obsessive the characters become to capture it, even costing some of them their lives. Easily the best example of awe, potentially to a spiritual and idolatrous level, is Ricky Park. He is the first character to discover the UFO—revealed to be an organism not a ship—stalking the skies. He tries to feed and even tame it, to bring in spectacle and allow it to be viewed by audiences of his theme park for profit. His obsession and exploitation of this alien creature leads to his death and the deaths of all who gaze upon the creature.

Cultural Spectacle

In an interview, Peele describes the world we live in as a “society of spectacle.”3 He goes on to say, “We use the spectacle to distract us from truth.” This distraction can come in many forms. Whether it is social media, art, film, ideas, social causes, or disasters, we use things by putting them upon a pedestal to distract us from reality. The film flirts with our obsession of putting horrors on display and idolizing them.

In many ways, this is reminiscent of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot’s wife looks back at the burning cities (after having been warned explicitly not to do so), and she suffers the consequences (Genesis 19:26). She makes a spectacle out of God’s destruction by the simple act of looking back. This theme also plays out in Nope. Later in the film we discover that it’s the act of looking upon the alien creature that results in it hunting you, to merely look away quite literally saves characters’ lives. However, some characters, in spite of this knowledge, look up and suffer the terrible consequences.

Another example of spectacle being used to idolize horrible moments is Jesus’s crucifixion. Crucifixion was considered a horrible death, as the victim died through either exhaustion or asphyxia. More than that, it was putting the prisoner on a display for all to see, mock, and abuse. This act of humiliation was made all the worse when the person crucified was Jesus, the sinless Son of God. It was and remains a blasphemous event that made a spectacle of his death.

The Spectacle of Death

“Spectacle” is not inherently wrong. In fact, to make a spectacle of bombastic stories, beautiful moments, or monumental occasions all have their place in our lives. Obsession is where we err. To put a moment, created thing, or idea above God, elevates awe to idolatry. It warps and shifts our idea of what is true and real. At various times God makes things into objects of elevated status in order to draw attention to his sovereignty. Christ makes a “spectacle” of the power and authorities by his sacrifice on the cross (Colossians 2:15). He raises his defeat of death up for all to see. This use of “spectacle” inspires hope, which is the power of spectacle used rightly.

While Nope is a valid cautionary tale of the spectacular and the dangerous power we give it, there is validity in the practice and use of “spectacle.” When we see action heroes jump out of a plane or caught up in a high speed chase, we react in excited tension at the extreme nature of the moment. When we see skyscrapers piercing the sky, we marvel at the ingenuity of humanity. When we are moved to tears by art, we bask in the marvelous nature of human creativity reflecting the artistry of God.

God uses awesome imagery to draw us to himself and to showcase his glory. Not only this, but he made himself into a spectacle in order to make a spectacle out of death. In that moment he redeemed the spectacular and triumphed over death to give us everlasting life.

*Please note this film has some disturbing scenes that include violence as well as strong language.

By Noah Lyle

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